How to make your story burn with emotion

Have you ever been so moved by a story that when you finished the book, you felt you said goodbye to a good friend, to a world you might never see again? Were you so immersed in the characters and their lives that everything they felt, you felt as well? Do you want your story to be as powerful, your characters as unforgettable?

Following are a few techniques you can use. Some take practice, but that’s how we learn to write: by writing.

  • Emotion
  • Tension
  • Showing instead of telling
  • Deep point of view

Emotion

A great technique writers can use to bring forth this immersion and interest is to bring emotion to your story.
Emotion helps to make your characters three-dimensional. Get right inside the reader’s head with the character’s anger, happiness, jealousy, curiosity. Create sympathetic characters the reader can identify with. The character’s situation should also be such that the reader can sympathize, especially if you’ve set up the story and gotten the reader involved in the character’s conflicts and goals. For example, which one of these two scenarios do you think would resonate with the reader more powerfully?

  1. The heroine is upset because her rival at the school dance is wearing the same dress as she is.
  2. The heroine is upset because her rival at the school dance is kissing the heroine’s boyfriend.

In the second scenario, the situation cuts deeper on an emotional level. The same dress issue might cause some embarrassment, but seeing another girl kiss the boy the heroine loves? That burns.

If you set up the story and the reader has identified with the heroine and has gotten to know her in the first couple of chapters–perhaps discovering this boy is her first true love–by the time the heroine sees him kissing the other girl, the reader might want to jump right into the book and say a few choice words to the rival, and to the boyfriend, too.

Dip right into what the character is feeling at that moment. If this is a turning point in the story, perhaps the black moment, bring home to the reader the character’s anguish and hurt as she watches her rival kiss the boy she loves.

Tension

Tension should be present in every one of your scenes. Make the situation for the character worse, and worse, and worse again. Tension and emotion along with pacing help to make your story resonate with the reader.

Showing instead of telling

This means that you show what is happening instead of merely telling (I was cold vs. I couldn’t feel my fingertips.) You are putting the image into the reader’s head.

Deep point of view

Write the scene as if you are in the character’s head, going through the same physiological and physical reactions to what is happening.

Which of these two descriptions would resonate with the reader more?

  • Olivia’s boyfriend was kissing Britney, the most popular girl at the school. Angrily, Olivia walked up to them and pushed them apart. To Britney she said, “Get your hands off my boyfriend.”
  • Olivia circled like a hawk around the dimly lit room. Where was Mark? He’d been disappearing for minutes at time. Nearing a dark corner, she stopped and stared. Was that him? She recognized his peach cummerbund and bow tie that matched her dress. But what was he doing? She stepped closer.

Oh, God. He had his arms around someone, was kissing her. And not just a light kiss, but an all-out liplock.

Olivia’s mind denied it even as she approached and stood a few feet away.

He was kissing…Britney.

Britney, the most popular girl at the school. Britney, who always got who and what she wanted. She merely had to snap her fingers and boys would come running.

Olivia’s eyes burned with tears, and sudden rage made her clench her hands into tight fists. Britney might get whoever she wanted, but Mark was off limits.

She reached them and shoved them apart. Turning to Britney, she spread her lips in a snarl. “Get your hands off my boyfriend.”

I used deep point of view and showing, not telling in the second example. Also, notice I didn’t use inner thoughts in italics, nor did I use tags. (Mark is off limits, Olivia thought.) There is no need. If you are in deep point of view, the reader knows we’re in Olivia’s head. Using italicized thoughts in present tense and adding who thought it makes for awkward, redundant reading. Instead, use past tense and play out the character’s deep point of view and actions as the scene unfolds.

Practice your writing using these basic techniques, and watch your story burn with emotion.

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